My first year of teaching in the Coachella Valley, I realized that these kids have never been to a professional sporting event. Not only do we live in a low income area, but we live at least 2 hours away from the closest major sports team. Determined to give my students something real to strive for, I took them to a Lakers game. What happened was more than just a game.
We saw the Staples Center and the excitement began. Boys came to the front to take pictures, girls went to the back to do their makeup, and I just smiled.
The game didn't even need to get played. We must've only watched 15 minutes of it. They wanted to see the pro shop, take pictures next to Kobe cardboard cutouts, walk around the stadium, and experience the experience. Immediately, I knew that I had something. So, ever since then, I've taken a group of deserving students to a major sports event (aside from the years that my wife and I had our kids) and they've been the best memories of the year.
This post is not only a way for me to reflect on this year's trip, but also a blueprint of how to do something similar for your students if you've ever thought of it. Feel free to comment at the end of this or hunt me down on Twitter if you want specifics for your trip.
I ask 2-3 extra chaperones to come along with me and my wife. It's usually one male and one female teacher. Yes, I pick my favorites, as it's also a reward for them putting up with my nonsense and shenanigans all year. I don't want to get onto a bus with someone that shares nothing in common with me. This year, I had a couple extra tickets, so another chaperone decided to go and it was great. We even had a dad go, which I normally wouldn't do, but he told his son that he couldn't go because it was too far and he would be worried. No, dad, this kid is going, and you're coming with. Problem avoided.
I also purchase a ticket for the bus driver. Very rarely will the driver come with us, but I feel bad leaving him/her on the bus as we go in and have a great time. Sometimes they say yes and we have enough tickets. Other times they say no and we get to practice "paying it forward" by giving the ticket to someone else at the ticket office looking for a seat.
- Year 1 was LA Lakers basketball
- Year 2 was LA Dodgers baseball
- Year 3 was the birth of our first son (NO TRIP!)
- Year 4 was Chivas USA soccer
- Year 5 was LA Kings hockey (the year they won the Stanley Cup!)
- Year 6 was the birth of our second son (NO TRIP!)
- Year 7 was back to LA Dodgers baseball
About a month before the "eligibility window" opened, I gave the students a heads up about what the criteria would be. I didn't care about grades and, in fact, didn't want the kids with straight A's. I'm not opposed to rewarding the elite kids, but this is meant to be a motivator. Anyone can be successful in life, regardless of status on a grade sheet. Here was the critera:
- Show up to school. They get excused absences for the entire month of eligibility. I understand that things happen outside their realm of control. 8th graders are notorious for missing time for their tooth bling and other things, so I build in that buffer. Go get your wires tightened and get back to school.
- Be on time to ALL classes. On our campus, we have a 4 minute passing period that some students work hard to time perfectly. If you're late to any class that isn't excused, you are off the list of eligible students. There's no reason to be late for classes, so get your butt in the seat.
- Turn in your work. ALL math work. I can't control, nor do I want to manage, the work that gets turned into other classes. I'm not going to step on other teachers' toes, but some teachers have unruly expectations and intentionally butt heads with certain kids who are great in my class. Turn your work in says nothing about grades. This ends up getting students who normally don't complete their work to actually, you know, do it. There is half the battle. It doesn't solve the problem, but it sure does help alleviate it.
- Stay out of trouble. ANY trouble. If your name winds up on the ISS (In School Suspension) or suspension list, you're done. It doesn't matter what it's for. If you're flying under the radar, there's no need to defend a referral that should've never happened. Once again, this doesn't solve the problem, but it helps alleviate some of it. Every year, I'll get 2-3 kids who go that are "head scratchers" that we can't seem to keep out of trouble.
- Write a letter of intent. I want to take kids who want to go, so I ask them to write a letter of intent. Why do you think you deserve to go to the game? Why do you want to go to the game? Sadly, this is the step that is the biggest filter of kids who remain eligible. They want to go, but not enough to write a half page letter defining their intent. For the students who complete this step, it's a great way for the good kids to reflect about how well they've done and the not-so-good kids to reflect on what they should be doing differently. Kids will be honest if you give them the right platform, and this is the right platform.
I didn't grow up wealthy and I'm proud of that. My first pair of "cool shoes" came when I got a sweet pair of white Fila's from the Outlet Store in Las Vegas. In 8th grade. My parents didn't have much, but they worked hard to instill in me and my brother that you make the most of what you do have. We saved, saved, and saved some more, and got some lucky breaks along the way. Our rewards, most of the time, were small and thoughtful. When we got the chance to go to a Dodgers game or an LA Kings hockey game, it was the treat of a lifetime. I can still remember going to games and literally sit on the edge of my seat the entire 3 periods or 9 innings.
It has nothing to do with sports. In fact, most of the trips, the kids don't even care about the game itself. It has everything to do with that giant box filled with something special at Christmas time. That giant box, you know the one that I'm talking about, holds an irrelevant present. You want the big box and don't care what's inside.
For my students, the big box is the trip to the game. How the cards fall is irrelevant. It doesn't matter who wins, what the score is, or if the players did anything exciting.
When we got to the stadium, it takes my breath every single time, and it was nice to see that it wasn't just me. I'm going to tell you about Jessica (name changed).
Jessica has had a pretty rough life. She's surrounded by family members engulfed in the life of drug abuse, dropping out of school, physical abuse, and so many more miserable things that make me well up just typing them out. Yet, through all of this, she has the best attitude and refuses to succumb to her surroundings. She has asked what it would be like to be adopted by a family that had money and if college would be possible. This stuff is enough to make the toughest knees weak. As a part of my 600 Club, her quote that he has found for herself is "Refuse to Sink". Powerful stuff.
This was Jessica's first time ever being to a major sports event. I dished off the tickets at the gate, had students convene inside as a group so that we could take a head count, then proceeded to our seats. As we walked in, she looked at me, shaking a little, and said that it was all overwhelming. "It's like you see in the movies, Mr. Stevens. There's so many people walking around in different directions".
No, Jessica, this is much better than the movies. This is real and you're getting a chance to wrap your head around one of the coolest feelings in the world, walking into a stadium of 40,000 people and feeling like you're part of the movie. As a matter of fact, you're the main character, and it feels amazing.
- I'm not afraid to ask for support from the community
- I'm not afraid of hearing the word "no" when getting donations
- If we don't raise enough, I'm OK with forking out the remainder
- I don't think kids should have to pay more than $10 for this
- I stress... a lot
Now that this is off my chest, the details of the "how" is all gravy.
- Find a date that works. Talk to the office staff before you order the tickets and make sure that nothing conflicts with the game. Also, get the approval from your administrator ahead of time (I forgot that part this year, but I've got an awesome principal).
- Find a game that you would want to see. When I took the kids to see the LA Kings, a total of zero students had ever seen a hockey game, let alone a highlight or maybe even a hockey puck. By the end of the night, Kopitar and Quick were their favorite players and they talked about it the rest of the year. The event doesn't matter. The experience does.
- Fill out all forms, and make copies for your records. Things happen, and you don't want things to happen when you're trying to set up a trip with this many moving parts.
- Set up transportation. We live too far to have students get dropped off near the stadium, but I would organize school transport regardless. It's just easier, more efficient, and less for parents to worry about. My kids complain every year about taking a school bus, but I'm not interested in a plush bus ride. I'd rather get better tickets or buy the kids a souvenir than have a chance to watch Finding Nemo on the way up (although Dori gets me every time she speaks whale).
- Purchase the tickets. Trust me, this is the hardest part. I'm the guy who goes to the dealership, gets nervous about the purchase, buys the car, then damn near passes out. It's nice to just have it done and over with, so click "purchase".
- Tell your kids about purchasing the tickets. Knowing that you have the order on its way makes things real. I pump it up to the kids every year like I just hit the lottery. "Boom! Guess what I just did?! Yep, tickets are on their way! Make sure that you're turning in your work, showing up, being on time, and being a good person. This is going to be a blast!"
- Fundraise. And then fundraise some more. I've done car washes. They're terrible. Yes, they make some money, but they're also a giant PITA. Some would call me lucky for the connections that I've made in the community, but I would just call it perseverance over time. I've heard a lot of people say "no" for one reason or another, and I'm totally fine with that. It's hard for people to say no to a person looking for help to reward students who deserve a reward, but it happens. I start out by hitting up all of the car dealerships in the area since they have one of the highest volumes of cash-flow go through their businesses. However, I don't stop there. I'll talk to anyone who'll listen until I get the answers that I want. This year, we tried to do a salsa fundraiser to raise a portion of the money, but had to abort that mission for a variety of reasons. The kids were extremely thrilled to raise the money for themselves, but it just didn't work out. I ended up meeting a local sports talk radio host, Julie Buehler, and she took it from there. A donation here, a donation there, and our trip was funded. Good people are out there, contrary to what's been happening in the news lately. You just have to find them.
- Feed them. Usually, I ask Carl's Jr. to donate enough food to feed the kids that I take on the trip. This year, thanks to the connections that Julie Buehler has, Burgers and Beer was able to donate $250 worth of food for the trip. This meant club sandwiches, chips, and coleslaw for each kid on the way up. They still brought their snacks, but the main meal was taken care of and we were all so appreciative.
- Select the students. This year, the selection process was harder than it's ever been. To make it as fair as possible, I took the group from my engineering class that won their KidWind competition (thought it was only right to reward them). The rest of the kids, those who wrote their letter and qualified, were given a number. Using Random.org, I generated a list of random numbers between 1 and 17, created a table in Excel, found the frequency of each number, and chose the 10 that came up the most. It was tough because so many kids deserved to go, but such is life. I let the kids know via Edmodo and they were so stoked!
- Permission slips. I gave out the permission slips and they had until Thursday to turn them in for a Friday game. Not surprisingly, they all turned them in on time and were ready to go!
- If you're on time, you're late. We left at 4:00, so I told the kids that they needed to be in my room by 3:30. Sure enough, many of them just decided to come right after school to hang out. I'm perfectly fine with that.
How'd It Go?
Since we were running late, we went right up to the gate, I handed tickets to the kids, and we found our seats (after the mandatory potty break). I feel like a little kid every time I get to Chavez Ravine, giddy and chills of excitement. We got to our seats just in time to watch Ryan Braun hit a home run off of Josh Beckett, getting the crowd, then my students, all fired up with "BOOOOOOOOO".
Somewhere amid all the beach balls bouncing around, waves forming throughout the stadium, paper airplanes being tossed around, songs blaring through the stadium's speakers, chants and hoorays was a baseball game going on. The Dodgers came out on top 7-5, with an exciting finish of Ryan Braun (you know, the culprit of our welcome), but that wasn't the story here.
I brought the kids to this game specifically because there was a fireworks show afterwards, but that wasn't even the story. The special moment came thanks to donations from a listener of Julie's radio show. My wife and I went up to the souvenir shop and got the kids a souvenir of their choice, coming back and spreading the Dodgers love like Santa Clause in Dodger Blue. Seeing the looks on their faces the whole night was the story. Smiles all the way around, laughing, telling stories, cheering along with the crowd, and getting into the feeling of supporting the team was the story.
Do this with your kids and you'll, all of you, will remember it forever. I know I will.
Happy Fishing and GO DODGERS!